Feeding Deer in your Backyard or in the Wild: What to Know

The Tips and Info You Need to Successfully Feed and Attract Deer


Deer are wild animals that always seem to capture our attention. As humans we have found many ways to attract deer and have them closer to us than ever before. People want to feed and attract deer for many reasons, whether it be enhancing their nutrition, luring them closer for wildlife viewing, changing their patterns of movement, or making them more visible for hunters. It’s important to establish your reasons for feeding and attracting deer because this will help determine the ways in which you’ll be the most successful. It’s also important to know what deer like to eat, how to feed them seasonally, their digestive health, and the various methods you can use to feed and attract deer.


But before you jet off and start feeding deer, be sure to check local laws and regulations regarding wildlife feeding. This way, you can stay out of trouble and feed and attract deer in ways that are the least damaging to the local ecosystem.


What Do Deer Like to Eat


In general deer eat browse (leaves and twigs of woody plants), forbs (broad-leaved herbaceous plants), grasses, mast (acorns, nuts and fruits), and mushrooms. But with each changing season, what they eat depends on availability. According to Dr. James Kroll’s article on white-tailed deer, they prefer forbs because overall they’re more nutrient rich and digestible. They eat large quantities of forbs in the spring to regain energy and weight they may have lost in the winter. But what gives deer the most sustenance is browse. Shrubs and young trees provide deer with leaves to eat during the summer, and twigs when the leaves start to fall.


During autumn deer like to feed on mast, also known as nuts and fruits. They’re considered high energy food sources for deer that help them store fats, carbohydrates and protein for the colder months of the year and for antler growth. Some of their favorite mast foods include: grapes, berries, acorns, chestnuts, apples and pears. Mushrooms also play an important role in the deer diet because they provide them with phosphorus and protein. The phosphorous found in nuts and mushrooms play an important role in the mineralization of their antlers.


Although you may see many deer feasting on the groundcover, it is not always grass that they’re after.

Like cows, deer are considered to be ruminants (those with a four-chambered stomach), however, they do not have the same capacity to digest grasses like cows do. Cattle are considered roughage eaters because their first stomach chamber contains 49 gallons of material that make even the most fibrous grasses digestible. On the other side of the spectrum of ruminants, deer are classified as concentrate selectors. Their rumen (first stomach) holds only about 4% of cow’s rumen. Unlike cows, deer do not eat hay. Grasses are not a primary food source for deer, but they will indulge in grass shoots when they’re more easily digestible. Deer will eat cereal grains such as oat, wheat and rye, but again it does not constitute a large portion of their diet.


Best Time to Feed Deer


The most popular time of year to feed deer is during the months where food resources are scarce. People see winter as the prime time to feed deer for many reasons. Some folks are concerned that deer will not have enough food supplies to last them the winter, while others see winter as the best time to bulk up deer before hunting them. For winter feeding, it’s common to feed deer high-carbohydrate and fatty foods such as corn, oats, wheat, bran and legumes. This is to ensure that deer can make it through the winter. If you will continue to feed deer during the spring and summer months it’s important to supply them with food rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. During this time of the year deer need highly nutritious food, especially fawns and bucks who are in their prime antler growing stages.


Deer Nutrition and Their Digestive Health


If you plan on feeding deer it’s important understand which foods will be beneficial for them. It’s best to feed deer plant matter that’s already a part of their regular diet because drastic changes to their diet can be harmful, and in some cases deadly. Their stomachs are adapted to eat browse, forbs, grasses, mast, and mushrooms. These foods provide deer with the proper amount of carbohydrates, fats, proteins and the overall nutrition they need.


However, if you’re focused on winter feeding or luring deer using feeds, be sure to introduce them to these food products gradually. Many of the feeds used to attract deer are corn-based and may negatively affect deer and their digestive system. If deer are given corn during a period of starvation, the large quantity of high-carbohydrate feed can cause acidosis. Digestive problems from excessive grains can also lead to laminitis in white-tailed deer, which is the inadequate blood flow to their hooves.


Their digestive systems are sensitive to sudden changes in diet, therefore, they need to be gradually introduced to alternate food products. It’s best to plan ahead and begin introducing feeds before winter hits so their digestive systems have time to adapt. Be sure to introduce small amounts of corn or feeds in multiple feeding areas. Another way to help deer adapt is by feeding them with a mixture of carbohydrate and protein supplements such as alfalfa, oats, soybeans and molasses. It’s important to help deer adapt to alternative food sources to ensure that they stay healthy and well.


Attracting Deer Using the Best Food Plots


One of the most effective ways to feed and attract deer is by using food plots. Food plots are sections of land that contain food and provide supplemental nutrition for deer during periods of stress. Food plots are also established to help alter the movement patterns of deer or to improve opportunities for hunting and viewing. According to the University of Missouri, food plots should be properly established and maintained in order to serve deer management objectives appropriately.


Before setting up a food plot to attract deer, be sure to establish your deer management objectives because this will help you create a successful food plot. One of the first things to consider is your budget. You will need to consider the cost of seeds, equipment, labor and maintenance. Some cost-saving measures include: buying seeds in bulk, collaborating with neighbors to share equipment and costs of seeds, or working with wildlife organizations.


The next thing to consider is the location of your food plot. Ideal locations for food plots are areas that deer travel through frequently or near habitats that offer them protective cover. Food plots are commonly placed adjacent to forest edges or open fields. Creating a transition zone with shrubs can also make food plots more attractive to deer. It is not recommended to place food plots near public roads or property boundaries; this is to prevent deer-vehicle accidents and disputes with neighbors. The size and shape of your food plot will largely be determined by the surrounding habitat and the topography of your land.


When it comes to planting your food plot, you can focus on cool-season plants, warm-season plants, or a mixture of both. Cool-season forage is also called “green browse”, such as clover, winter wheat, oats and Brassicas (turnips, rape, radishes, kale and canola). They grow during the fall and spring and provide deer with quality nutrition during the late fall, winter, and early spring when food supplies are limited. Cold-season forage can help deer recover from post-breeding season stress and can also help lure deer for hunting opportunities.


Warm-season forage is usually planted between late April and May when there is no longer the risk of frost. Warm-season plants include corn, sorghum, soybeans, and other high-quality legumes. They’re high in carbohydrates and fats and provide the nutrients deer need for lactation, fawn growth, and development. When soybeans are planted, deer enjoy eating the green forage and after the beans are harvested they’re also used to feed deer throughout the winter.


You may want to focus your food plots for winter feeding, but by planting a mixture of cold-season and warm-season plants, you can feed and attract deer year-round. Other factors to consider include: soil fertility, sunlight availability, soil drainage, available equipment, deer herd density and surrounding land use practices. To ensure that your food plot will effectively feed and attract deer, evaluate the land you intend to establish a food plot and research the plants and practices that will be the most suitable for your location.


Other Ways to Attract Deer


Other than food plots, the use of feeders is another popular method to attract and feed deer. There are various feeder designs, each with their pros and cons for deer feeding. Gravity feeders allow feed to fall in the serving area as it’s being eaten. Timer feeders allow you control when and how often food is dropped in the serving area. Trough feeders are simple and affordable but it’s often more difficult to deal with other animals that are attracted to the feed. Before investing in a feeder be sure to assess the quantity of feed you want to use, the season(s) you’ll be feeding deer, and any potential threats to the feeders.


Another way to attract deer is by enhancing the growth of native vegetation. You can help improve the growth of trees, shrubs and groundcover that deer enjoy eating. One way is by cutting back trees to clear paths for deer and to prune them for healthier growth. You can also fortify the soil on your property to help encourage the growth of shrubs and groundcover.


Here is a list of some of the plant species that deer in North America like to eat:

Eastern Canada: beaked hazel, white cedar, ground hemlock, maples, service berry, yellow beech

Northeastern United States: greenbrier, blackberry, dogwood, sassafras, maples, staghorn sumac

Southeastern United States: greenbrier, Japanese honeysuckle, Alabama supplejack, maples, American beautyberry, dogwood

Central United States: quaking aspen, common snowberry, dogwood, skunkbush sumac, Saskatoon serviceberry, bearberry

Southern United States/Mexico: catclaw acacia, granjeno, kidneywood, lime prickly ash, bluewood condalia, lotewood condalia


Resourceful Product Reviews


It’s important to research which feeding or attracting method is most suitable for your objectives and the area you have to work with. Below are product reviews of some of the most popular deer attractants and feeding products on the market.


Wildgame Innovations Acorn Rage – 16-Pound Bag


Wildgame Innovations has developed a nutritional deer supplement that uses real acorns. Their concentrated formula contains no flavorings, extracts, scents or aromas. Acorn Rage is ready to use right out of the bag and can be placed directly on the ground or in trough and gravity feeders. The feed is intended to be used as a year-round food supplement to attract and manage whitetail deer. Acorn Rage helps support antler growth and supports overall deer health.

  • No Mixing Required
  • Year Round Nutrional Deer Supplement

Buy Now!

Boss Buck 200 lb. “All-In” Protein and Corn Feeders

These Boss Buck Feeders are made in the USA with all galvanized hardware. The roto-molded plastic feeder holds a capacity of 200 lbs. They’ve been thoughtfully designed to be gravity feeders in the spring and summer which can be easily converted to an automatic feeding system in the fall and winter months. It’s considered to be one of the most user-friendly and versatile wildlife feeders because the user can easily control the feed flow to whatever size is needed. The feeder has a double-walled hatch lid that eliminates condensation and allows for temperature regulation.

  • Tough Roto-Molded Plastic
  • Made in USA and excellent quality
  • 200lb Capacity

Buy Now!

Wildgame Innovations Buck Bran Attractant – 5 Pound Bag


Buck Bran is a nutritional supplement for deer that is known successfully attract them during the fall and winter months. The feed mixture contains extruded rice bran, cracked corn, molasses, and soybean meal. This provides deer with 14% protein, 11% fat, 12% fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Wildgame Innovations have powdered the feed to help older deer consume it more easily and to allow for the scent to be carried away and in turn attract more deer. Buck Bran can be placed directly on the ground or in trough and gravity feeders.

  • Year Round Nutritional Deer Supplement
  • 14% Protein/11% Fat/12% Fiber Breakdown with Vitamins/Minerals

Buy Now!

Manna Pro Moultire Deer Corn Supplement

Manna Pro has created a corn supplement that’s best used to feed and attract white-tailed and mule deer. Moultrie Deer Corn is high in carbohydrates and is intended to enhance wild deer populations. Whether your intention is to increase the food supply for deer populations or to entice game for hunting or wildlife viewing, Moultrie Deer Corn Supplement was made to lure deer to any given area.

  • 40 LB Bag
  • For White Tailed and Mule Deer
  • Enhances Wild Deer Population

Buy Now!

Conquest Scents Evercalm Deer Herd Scent Stick

Conquest Scents have come out with a calming scent stick intended to attract deer and keep them relaxed. The Evercalm Scent Stick can be applied on clothing, trees, scent pads, cameras and decoys. They’ve collected scents and smells from deer bedding areas, so even if deer smell you close by they’ll stay calm. They’ve developed a wax-stick formula that’s weather resistant and can be applied like deodorant. During any hunt the scent stick will leave you with no spills, no leaks, and no mess.

  • World’s First Calming Scent
  • Effective All Season Long
  • Wax-Stick Formula: No Spills, leaks or mess.

Buy Now!



Closing Out


Before going off and feeding and attracting deer, it’s important to thoroughly research the method(s) and products you intend to use. Take into consideration what deer like to eat, how to feed them seasonally and their digestive health. Be sure to evaluate your deer management objectives to figure out the best way to feed and attract your local deer population. You may be interested in establishing a food plot, setting up feeders or using more innovative measures such as a scent stick. Regardless of what route you take, it’s important to treat deer respectfully, even if your intention is to hunt them for sustenance. As wild animals, deer play a role in our local ecosystems, and as humans we must foster a healthy and balanced relationship with our local wildlife.

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